Warm Welcome for Wary People

Warm Welcome for Wary People

“Welcome!”  This is the greeting we received today, as we walked our youngest child into her kindergarten classroom to meet her teacher for the first time.  As we looked around the room at parents and children, we were impressed by the warm welcome given to wary students, as they entered this strange room ready to embark on the beginning of many years of first days of school.  From the name tags on the tables, to the personalized cubbies, to the packets left for each child, everything in the classroom communicated, “Welcome!  We’ve been expecting you, and we’re glad you’re here.”  By the time we left, our daughter felt so comfortable and welcomed, she gave her teacher a giant hug, joyfully declaring, “See you Tuesday!”

All of us know the feeling of walking into unfamiliar territory for the first time.  Whether it’s a new classroom, job, city or neighborhood, we have all experienced the wary feeling of being a stranger, wondering if we will be accepted, welcomed and embraced.  This is especially true in the local church, where relationships among members are tight and where the language and culture may be unfamiliar.  This is why those who belong to a church must make intentional steps to communicate, “Welcome! We’ve been expecting you, and we’re glad you’re here.”  But where does this begin?

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5 years – 5 Prayers of Thanksgiving for Calvary PCA

5 Years – 5 Prayers of Thanksgiving for Calvary PCA

When I first stepped into the pulpit at Calvary five-years ago this week, I could not possibly have imagined the joys, sorrows, challenges and triumphs that lie ahead.

I could not have known that my family would live in three homes, that one of my children would be enrolled in three schools in as many years, or the extent to which we would be loved by a congregation seeking and praying for God’s renewing grace in their midst.  I could not have known the names or faces that would come and go, making an indelible mark on our family and church by bringing joy through friendship and sorrow through loss.  I could not have known who would make a midnight phone call, seeking comfort in the midst of crisis, or who would pull me aside after church to express their delight at the news of a new job, new life, new relationship, or new opportunity.

I knew that pastoral ministry was a beautiful, difficult calling, but the details of what we would face together in the coming years were a mystery, just as what lies ahead for us in the future is unknown to all but God.

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Moving from the Buffet Line to the King’s Table (Part 2): Tasting Community

Moving from the Buffet Line to the King’s Table (Part 2): Tasting Community

My family enjoys a good buffet.  There’s enough food to feed the hungriest parent and plenty of options to satisfy the pickiest child.  However, my wife and I have discovered one major drawback to our trips the local buffet – we may show up together, but we rarely eat together.

With three children ages 5, 9, and 11, we find ourselves taking shifts to the buffet line.  My wife takes one child through the line, and I’ll take another, while our oldest child works her way through on her own.  Once our two youngest children have their food, I will typically stay with the children at the table, while my wife gets her food.  Once she returns, I’m ready to take round 1 through the buffet line.  Finally!  I sit down and grab my fork to eat, and then I hear a voice next to me, “Daddy, I’m ready for seconds.”

Welcome to the buffet – where we all get what we want, but scarcely enjoy it together!  This illustrates why increasingly, we prefer a “family meal” at home or in a sit-down restaurant to the everyone’s-pleased-but-not-together experience of the local buffet.  We miss the joy of tasting, not only our food, but the community we have together.

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Moving from the Buffet Line to the King’s Table: Savoring Mercy

Moving from the Buffet Line to the King’s Table: Savoring Mercy

Where do you want to go to eat?  This question in my home typically elicits one of three answers.  If it’s not my children’s favorite fast food joint or a place serving breakfast all day, it’s almost always their favorite buffet – known affectionately in our home as the hog trough.  Why?  Because buffets are full of choices – unending choices, sure to please the pickiest eater.  Of course, the enticing, all-you-can-eat dessert station, complete with cotton candy, might have something to do with their palate’s restaurant of choice.

Our lives are often a lot like that buffet.  Every week includes a series of choices – some that fill us well and others that feel good for a moment, but leave us empty, like the cotton candy in the dessert line.  But in any case, we make the choice – from the places we shop, to the sports we play, to the videos we stream on the device we choose to carry into the restaurant we choose to patron, to the church activities in which we engage.  Life’s options often feel like a line at the local buffet.  In fact, for many of us, the Christian life has become a series of trips to the buffet line.

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10 Pastoral Prayers for 2018

10 Pastoral Prayers for 2018

As we move into a new year of ministry together, I am keenly aware of our need for God’s work in our midst.  I am also conscious of my tendency to pray small prayers, asking God to do things that feel safe and manageable.

However, as I read the Bible, and particularly the prayers of God’s people, I am struck by the humanly impossible petitions and promises contained within its pages.  God’s promises to His people are not attainable through human effort or intellect, and the prayers of Scripture often ask God to do what only an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving and gracious God can do.

To that end, I have found myself praying prayers for Calvary Presbyterian Church that only God could answer and that are clearly beyond my grasp.  I invite you to do the same.  Below are 10 specific ways in which I am praying for the people of Calvary in 2018:

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Fall Again: Good News for the Seasons of Life

Fall Again
Fall Again: Good News for the Seasons of Life

As I sat in my window seat, sipping a complimentary beverage at a local coffee shop this week, I peered up from behind my computer screen to catch a glimpse of a sign I somehow missed as I entered the door just minutes before.  There it was in bold letters with illustrations of autumn leaves around the headline – “Fall Again.”  In spite of the high 80s temperatures outside, the sign reminded me of what I had conveniently forgotten: Fall is here; another season in a busy year.

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Good News for A Lonely World: The Message of Exodus 21-40

Good News for a Lonely World
Good News for a Lonely World: The Message of Exodus 21-40

A recent headline from an article by Dr. Keith Ablow declared, “Loneliness is Now More Deadly than Obesity.  And We Don’t Have a Plan to Reduce it.”[1]  He cites findings presented at the recent American Psychological Association conference asserting that, “social isolation, loneliness or living alone was each a significant factor contributing to premature death.”

We live in a paradoxical time in which we are surrounded by others and inundated nearly every moment with so-called “social” media, yet recent studies show that people feel more isolated and lonely than ever before, and it’s killing us.  One only needs to observe a sea of people checking their smartphones in a crowded restaurant to know that we bring many of our feelings of loneliness upon ourselves, but the reality is that the solution may be deeper than simply downgrading to an old-school flip phone.  This is but a symptom to a deeper problem.

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Life in Transition: Looking Back and Looking Forward on Ministry Together

Wilks Family
Life in Transition: Looking Back and Looking Forward on Ministry Together at Calvary

Last night our family attended a “meet the teacher” event at my son, Hayden’s, new school.  Tomorrow, my wife will drop off our oldest child, Kayleigh, at the building where she will begin her middle school experience, so she can meet her teachers and other incoming 6th graders.  Simultaneously, I will accompany my youngest child, Elise, to meet her teacher, as she begins the final year of preschool for any Wilks child.  Very few people love change, most abhor it, but the reality is that life is often a series of transitions interspersed with short spurts of stability.

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A Call To Repentance in the Wake of Charlottesville

A Call to Repentance in the Wake of Charlottesville.

If you’re like me you have been horrified, deeply disturbed, and even self-reflective at the events of violence and hatred on display at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA this weekend.

In light of these events, we led the congregation of Calvary Presbyterian Church in a season of repentance, lament, and longing during our Sunday worship gathering.  Below is a transcript of what I said in leading the members of Calvary into this season:

Reflections on the Events of Charlottesville this weekend and a call to repent, lament and long for Jesus.

* Let me be abundantly clear.  There is no room in the Christian Life and Christian Church for racism or white supremacy or any supremacy that supplants Christ’s Supremacy.  None!

* Revelation 7:9 describes a day when Christ sits upon his throne and at his feet is the multitude too large to count from every tongue, tribe, and people and language standing before the throne, washed white by the blood of Jesus Christ, crying out with ONE voice (not disparate voices), ONE voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

* In Ephesians 2:14-16, the Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus has broken down in his body the middle wall of separation between God and Man and Humanity with One another.  Here is what he says:

 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

* In John 17 – Jesus prays fervently for this church of every tongue tribe and nation and every generation to exhibit the Unity that exists between the Father and the Son – a unity that has existed from before the beginning of time.

* Here’s the reality, it is easy to look at the images of men in their nice polo shirts holding torches and people wearing their white hoods and carrying their flags and think – “Look at them over there.  Look how the seeds of hate run deep in them.  I’m glad I’m not like that.”

* But when I think about the reality of what Christ has secured and what Christ prayed for and what Christ is doing in the world today, I cannot help but see myself in those images.

* I cannot help but think about the vestiges of racism that remain in my own heart;  The silence that too often characterizes my lips;  The inaction that fails to get out of my apartment or my office or the coffee shop and pursue real racial reconciliation in my own heart and life and lead the church to do the same.

* I can’t help but remember the words of Dr. King that remain as true today as they did when first stated that 11am on Sunday is the most segregated time in America.

* I cannot help but feel the hypocrisy of my own heart and life, knowing that every Sunday morning, Bethany and I leave our apartment complex where we are the overwhelming minority and come to this church that Jesus loves, where we are part of the overwhelming majority.

* I don’t stand before you as a man who has it all together or even knows what to do.  But I stand before you as a fellow struggler knowing that we are in desperate need of the reconciling power of Jesus Christ, so that we the church might be the true reflection of Christ’s unifying Lordship over all things through His work at Calvary.

* What I know is we are a people in deep need of repentance, faith and Christ’s reconciling work.

This morning we lament, not only the horrifying events and evil in Charlottesville, but the vestiges of division that remain in us.  May Jesus have mercy on us.

 

 

 

Ordinary to Extraordinary

Photo Credit: Ryan Hatton

Photo Credit: Ryan Hatton

Ordinary to Extraordinary: Giving thanks for the Fruit of Ordinary Life and Ministry

We live in an Instagram society.  Snap a photo, post it, and display what appears to be an extraordinary moment in the midst of ordinary life.  This often makes us assume that life should be full of the incredible, the fanciful, the extraordinary.

In reality, life and ministry is a series of normal, mundane, ordinary and repetitive moments that sometimes bear fruit in extraordinary ways.  Day-to-day life for most of us is full of the repetitive cadence of waking up, eating meals, washing dishes, cleaning a home, driving to and from work, grocery shopping, taking care of family obligations, paying bills, checking e-mail and social media, watching television, going to bed, getting up the next morning, and repeat.  Yet once-in-a-while the faithful living-out of the ordinary moments of life gives way to something extraordinary: new relationships blossom, new opportunities fall in our laps, we graduate from school, awards come our way, a pay raise relieves financial pressure, a vacation breathes new life into our lungs, retirement gives a new perspective on life, our children embrace Jesus, we have a moment of clarity years-in-the-making.

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